Chicago-Area Schools To Use Web-Based Notification Systems

Honeywell recently announced three Chicago-area school districts will use its Web-based notification service, Honeywell Instant Alert for Schools, to improve communication with parents. Oak Lawn-Hometown School District, New Lenox School District, and Oswego Community Unit School District will join more than 20 other Illinois districts that currently rely on the service.

Instant Alert replaces "phone trees" in district schools, giving administrators a way to send messages to thousands of families via phone, cell phone, pager, e-mail, and PDA. Schools can use the service to update parents on both critical and everyday issues, including emergencies, weather-related concerns, bus delays, and event cancellations.

The ability to quickly deliver news to a large group is especially important for Oswego Community Unit School District, one of the state's fastest-growing school districts with a student body that has increased 10 percent to 18 percent each year for the last 10 years.

"Instant Alert allows us to keep up with our increasing population and communicate quickly and accurately with parents," said David Behlow, superintendent of Oswego Community Unit School District, which serves more than 13,000 preK-12 students.

Behlow said he recalls an anthrax scare at one of the schools several years ago. The district relied on phone trees, which are time-consuming and prone to inaccuracy, to share the news.

"If we would have had technology like Instant Alert, I believe it would have minimized concerns, reduced calls from parents, and made it easier to manage the situation," he said. To use Instant Alert, a designated representative initiates a message through a secure website or by phone. The message is instantly relayed to all contact points provided by parents or guardians. Parents can update their contact information online and specify how they want to be reached—such as e-mail for a routine message or e-mail and cell phone for emergency communications.

New Lenox School District, which has 5,500 preK-8 students, wanted to continue its tradition of reaching out to parents by using Instant Alert to streamline the communication process and reduce administrative costs.

"We believed the right people needed to hear the right information in the right order," said Michael Sass, New Lenox superintendent. "But with this service, we can simultaneously contact all parties without having to worry about who to call first." Similarly, administrators at Oak Lawn-Hometown School District see Instant Alert as a faster way to reach a greater number of contacts, and with fewer resources. The district plans to fund Instant Alert through a federal Emergency Response and Crisis Management grant.

"Emergency response plans are an important aspect of school operations," said Lauri Calebrese, assistant superintendent of Oak Lawn-Hometown School District, which serves more than 2,900 preK-8 students. "Parents should be able to send their children to school and have the peace of mind that they'll be contacted with any important news. Being able to deliver information quickly with Instant Alert helps make that possible."

In addition to broadcasting messages to all parents, Instant Alert allows schools to develop an unlimited number of subgroups--including sports teams, clubs, parent organizations and grade levels--and send customized messages to these groups. Teachers and administrators also can send alerts to individual parents, which can help combat truancy.

"Instant Alert helps solve one of the main challenges for schools: knowing where and how to reach parents and guardians," said Mike Taylor, vice president of Americas marketing for Honeywell Building Solutions. "The service provides a quick, direct link to parents, whether they're at home, at work or somewhere in between."

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